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  Escaping the Tyranny of the Urgent

Productivity Principle: Focus on the Important, Not the Urgent

In the book Getting Things Done, author David Allen describes a powerful scenario that really resonated with me the first time I heard it. He calls it Emergency Scan Modality, or "living like a firefighter."

The person who is stuck in Emergency Scan Modality is constantly scanning the horizon for the next emergency, looking for the next fire to put out (like a firefighter). Living like a firefighter means that you are in perpetual fear that you’ve forgotten something important and you’re constantly worried about having it blow up in your face. This makes it impossible to focus on what's important for any length of time. So instead of being intentional and making progress towards your goals, you are just trying to “keep your head above water” and are stuck in a cycle where you simply react to the next urgent fire whenever it springs up. Living your life this way will keep you from achieving your God-given dream, and is extremely stressful as well!

The problem is that there will always be urgent things demanding our attention. If we don't establish boundaries with our God-given purpose so we can keep our focus on what God has called us to do, we can easily find ourselves distracted and pulled off the path toward our promised land.

This is where the Eisenhower Box can really help us out. It allows us to see the true nature of the things that are demanding our attention, helping us to identify the essential few so we can start to eliminate the trivial many. Once you know what is truly important and how it's tied to your God-given dream, it becomes easier to dismiss the urgent distractors.

Action Items

  • Create your own Eisenhower Box (there's a blank template you can download here) and list out everything that you've done today (or is on your to-do list) in the appropriate boxes.
  • Next, make a list of the things that you wanted to do but didn't get around to (Important but Not Urgent), i.e. getting to the gym, writing, etc.
  • Look at the things you have listed in the Not Important and Not Urgent section (if any). Figure out a way to stop doing these immediately!
  • Look at the things you have listed in the Urgent but Not Important section. Is it possible to delegate any of these tasks in the near future?
  • Once you've created some margin by eliminating unnecessary tasks, start to prioritize the Important but Not Urgent things you put on your list. One way to do this is to put time blocks on your calendar so that you have time to do these things.

Audiofile: Escaping the Tyranny of the Urgent.m4a